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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #79 - Spring 2010
Contents of this Issue:

This has been just the most insanely busy spring I have had in years. And even as I write this, there is no letup in sight, as the deadlines just keep coming at me one after the other.

There are a few reasons for the 'busyness': for a couple of months there I was running a kind of 'double' schedule - still working on the final print in the My Solitudes series while at the same time planning the new Mystique series. On top of this was the planning and preparation for the spring exhibition, which turned out to be two exhibitions, as you will read in the Exhibition Report story inside. And the 'one print per month' schedule of the new series, while not something I have never done before, is certainly keeping me hopping!

So work on this Spring issue of the newsletter was constantly postponed, until finally it got to the point where it could no longer be ignored ... and here we are!

Because this is the first newsletter of the year, we will have the usual Annual Report covering last year's activities, and the rest of the content will bring you up-to-date with the various projects.

Better late than never!

Exhibition Report

After a two year break with no exhibition, I was certainly ready for this one! My work keeps me chained to the benches most days, and although I don't mind being by myself day after day, it is certainly necessary for me to get 'out and about' now and then, or I would turn into a complete hermit!

So once this exhibition was scheduled, I was looking forward to it quite a bit. Preparation was more difficult than usual, as the extremely restricted space available in the narrow Ginza gallery meant that I had to jettison many of the usual components of my exhibitions, including many of the older prints I have made, the gallery talk, and the (important!) coffee corner.

It was just 'basics' this time: display of the completed My Solitudes series, a corner devoted to the Mokuhankan publishing venture, and - of course - the display of the first print in the new Mystique of the Japanese Print series.

One thing about this exhibition that was of great interest to me in the runup to it was the question of how being in the Ginza would affect the show. I previously chose to be in Shinjuku (and then later Yurakucho) because I felt those districts were representative of a cross-section of society - something for everyone - and thus quite suitable for my work. I previously avoided the Ginza, feeling that it was too 'up scale' and exclusive for me.

But as all Japanese readers know, things have changed, and although there are indeed still many very high priced boutiques in the Ginza, they now stand side-by-side with discount clothing shops, and it's pretty much 'anything goes', including woodblock prints.

It would have been nice to be in a place on the 'main street', but as that was far beyond my means, a small back street gallery had to suffice. It was thus never crowded with random passers-by; the show was mainly intended as a way to get re-acquainted with the collectors. And that's pretty much how it turned out, with a steady stream of them dropping by during the week.

Just as I was 'recovering' from the exhibition and getting back to work, I found out about another venue for displaying artwork, something completely different from anything I have tried before.

This was the Design Festa, a gigantic show that takes over the huge Tokyo Big Sight convention center twice a year for a weekend. It is completely open to all - anybody with anything remotely related to 'design' - from amateur to professional. Each event includes more than 2,000 exhibitors, and attracts many tens of thousands of visitors. The entrance fee is quite reasonable, and although it promised to be a noisy and somewhat chaotic event, I thought 'why not give it a try?' and signed up.

It was indeed both noisy and chaotic, and even more crowded than I had imagined. I was in a pretty good location on the show floor, on a main aisle with good visibility, and at some times on the Sunday there were so many people passing by my booth that they were unable to stop and look properly, due to the pressure from the people coming along behind them. But because I was doing printing demonstrations almost constantly, this was a good 'attraction', and a great many people did stop to chat for a while.

I heard time and again from people who had seen my work on TV or in a magazine, and who were now getting a chance to see it 'in real life', and I posed for dozens of 'souvenir' photos.

My booth space was very small, just a single tatami in size, and by the end of each day I could barely stand up, my legs were so cramped. After the close of the show on Sunday evening, I very nearly fell asleep on the train on the way home, something I have never experienced before!

All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I am happy that I chose to participate. But for the next little while, I'll be sticking close to my own bench, in my own quiet room!

Mystique Progress

Late last year, as the My Solitudes series approached its completion, it became time for me to make a decision on what to do next. I have a file here that contains a great many suggestions for possible prints, so coming up with ideas is not a problem, it is the choice between them that is difficult!

The topmost question to be answered was one that I have been asked by collectors many times recently - will the new series be originals or reproductions? It is going to include both (I think), although the focus will indeed be on reproductions and adaptations of classical work. I wish to focus for a while on the techniques of making fine prints, and reproductions are the best way for me to do that.

I felt also, that this time - given the current economic situation in which we find ourselves - the series had to be an inexpensive one for the collectors. And having just completed a long three year project, I wanted to do something a bit shorter this time.

So thinking about all those things together, I came up with the idea of making another Hanga Treasure Chest, something along the same lines that I produced a few years ago but with a few differences:

  • the prints will be issued at a pace of one per month
  • they are made in the traditional ko-ban dimension (about 13.5 x 20 cm)
  • the storage case (and display stand) is a beautifully crafted wooden box (varnished paulownia wood)
  • the series has a theme - 'The Mystique of the Japanese Print' - and the prints will each demonstrate some particular aspect of traditional art or technique.

As I write this, I am buried in work on the third print in the series, and reaction from collectors to the first two prints (and case) has been very positive. I am of course a little bit biased, but I think we have a winner here!

If you haven't sent in your subscription yet, please consider doing so - this is shaping up to be a wonderful print collection!

2009 Roundup

Time for another Annual Report, and this one is going to be embarrassing (even more so than those of the past few years!)

This year's addition to the income graph you see below has followed the recent downward trend, and my income (both gross and net) slumped to a level I haven't experienced in nearly 20 years. And as you will see on the chart further down, once taxes, insurance and etc. were accounted for, I was actually under water for the year, and was only able to get through by constantly postponing bill payments. (And when my old computer died last spring, my parents came to the rescue with the resources for a new one!)

It's quite a strange situation; on the one hand I am actually a wildly successful woodblock printmaker, shipping many hundreds of prints out each year to enthusiastic collectors all over the world - a situation many craftsmen/artists would die for. But because my expenses are high, and my prices are low, the bottom line is always very tight.

The 'obvious' answer to the problem, which I hear from people all the time, is to raise the prices. But I myself don't think that this is the answer. For one thing, it seems to me that it would simply drive away a number of the collectors. Prices up, sales down.

What I need, rather than higher prices, is more people collecting my work. I make 200 copies of each print, and my expenses reflect the cost of doing that. But as the current subscriber list is less than half that total, it doesn't balance. Expenses for 200 ... income from 100 ...

The solution is very simple; I have to work more on what the business world calls 'marketing'; I have to let more people know what a wonderful chance they are missing by not collecting these beautiful prints!

If only it were that simple!

Sadako's Corner

Spring is marvelous! During the winter I worried so much about all the dead-looking trees that I found myself constantly checking them closely for the presence of any buds, but that stage is behind me now. My garden is visibly rejuvenating day by day, and early every morning I rush out there to talk to the plants.

But with the onset of spring, the work of taking care of all the plants increases, particularly for the ones in pots. Once their roots have grown to fill the space tightly, they must either have their roots trimmed, or be replanted into larger pots. It is quite hard work to scrape the roots away from the inside wall of the pot. I carefully insert a sharp knife between the pot and root, work at it until everything is freed, and then clear off any dead leaves and stems before replanting. These are quite pleasant tasks, but there is one particular plant that makes me feel reluctant to do this work - the dendrobium.

If you are familiar with this plant you will know that stems which have borne flowers this year will not do so again next year, and are thus unneeded. So I categorize these into three groups. The first - and most important - are those that didn't bear flowers this spring but have matured enough to have flowers next time. These are like adolescent boys and girls. A second group are small ones that were not ready to flower this year, but are worth keeping for the next year. They are like lovely children in kindergarten or elementary school. But the third type are the ones that cause me pain, as it is to these that I must say, "You are just taking up room. I am sorry but I don't need you any more. Forgive me," as I reluctantly trim them away.

It is only since I approached 60 that this annual chore has begun to bother me. The reason that I am unable to enjoy this work is that it reminds me of the famous old tale about the mountain where old people were taken to be abandoned. I am so resistant to culling the old stems that one year I 'sneaked' them into the other groups and left them alone. It was a disaster. When the fresh ones became green and began to bear flowers, these turned brown and stood sadly in place. They looked so miserable that I had to cut them off at the bottom!

I wonder why I bother about such things. Is it that I have so little confidence about aging? When I think over my own situation ... it seems that I am still contributing not only to my own family but to wider society too. I certainly have a lot to pass on to my daughters and grandchildren. I am in no way a useless person. Then why am I bothered about the flowers?

And I hear the bearded man's voice. "What are you doing, talking to the plants? That's crazy! Things like that don't bother me; I am simply going to stay active and push on until the end of my life."

Well sir, may I tell you one thing? This dendrobium is the offspring of the one I rescued from the pot that you had been ignoring on your balcony more than 10 years ago. Have you forgotten?


'My Solitudes' wrapup ...

Because of the rush to get the new series started, this newsletter is a bit shorter than it should be, and some things had to be postponed. One of those was the 'wrapup' story on the now completed My Solitudes series.

That is now scheduled for publication in the next issue of the newsletter, and I have a request to make of the collectors. As part of that story, I would like to include comments and thoughts from you. Although I created the series - wrote the book and designed and made the prints - my viewpoint is actually quite narrow, and I would be very interested in hearing what you have to say about it, now that it is complete and can be seen as a whole.

I'm not just fishing for compliments, and if you have critical comments, they would be welcome too. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!